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Changing of the county guard begins Collins, Giambra hold first meeting as both predict a smooth transition

County Executive-elect Christopher C. Collins checked out his new office on the 16th floor of the Rath County Office Building on Tuesday, pronouncing it a nice place with a great view.

"But I suspect I won't be in it a lot," he said after his first transition meeting with outgoing County Executive Joel A. Giambra. "I tend to be out a lot. I'm generally not someone who camps out in the office."

Indeed, the Republican elected as county executive last week embraced the businesslike tone he emphasized throughout his successful campaign. During a meeting with reporters, he said he expects to name two leaders of his transition team today and 13 to 17 transition subcommittees in upcoming days.

He also revealed several other developments:

* He is investigating the legality of foundations financing a nationwide search for a deputy county executive to serve as a chief operations officer, as well as partly financing the deputy's salary to entice top applicants.

* He is satisfied that Giambra will turn over a county government in stable financial condition. "The numbers suggest that Erie County is on stable footing," Collins said.

* He expects to meet with the control board governing county finances within the next week.

* Though Giambra has asked for letters of resignation from his top officers dated Dec. 31, Collins said they and all other qualified applicants will be eligible for posts in his new administration.

* As promised during the campaign, he has resigned any officer position in the 11 local companies in which he holds stakes of 3 percent to 50 percent, but said he will remain on the local board of the Boy Scouts of America.

Collins provided insight into how his business-oriented administration will run by indicating he has received several offers of help from "Six Sigma" experts in implementing their business administration practices in the Rath Building.

He expects to hire a deputy county executive who will oversee most county operations, while Collins will immerse himself in financial, budgetary, legal, personnel and economic-development matters.

"I will look to the deputy county executive to fill the role as business manager with my input and direction," he said.

Collins appeared relaxed and on friendly terms with Giambra, who quipped that his successor should pick colors other than "red and green" in presenting budget proposals, referring to the origins of the 2004-05 county financial crisis.

"I feel this county will be very well served with him as a CEO; he's obviously a quick study," Giambra said. "He knows as much about the county budget as I do."

The county executive added that he expects the transition period to be much smoother than when he inherited the reins of government from Dennis T. Gorski in 1999, which Giambra called "a very difficult time."

"If ever he needs advice, I'm a phone call away," Giambra said. "If not, I understand that, too."

Collins said he was appreciative of Giambra's efforts to aid what he predicted will be a "seamless transition."

"He's got a wealth of experience in government and clearly knows the lay of the land in Erie County," Collins said. "We will take advantage of that."

The county executive-elect said he already has received transition memos from top Giambra administration officials and again pledged to install the "best and brightest" in every county position. And with Erie County Republican Chairman James P. Domagalski looking on, he pledged he will consider anyone who applies for county positions.

Collins said he has spoken with Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, Rep. Brian Higgins and former Gov. George E. Pataki in recent days, all of whom have pledged cooperation or advice.

"There will not be partisan politics, I believe, in any of this," Collins said.


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